With the end of Labor Day comes the official end of the summer movie season and it's not been kind to Hollywood this year. In fact many analysts have essentially been giving the season a "F," which isn't surprising given that this year will mark a eight-year box office low with revenue down nearly 15% and attendance falling 5%.
Yet it's not all doom and gloom as some trends did emerge this summer that can help any investor with a media stock in their portfolio make the right moves to beat the box office at its own game.
Girl power hasn't gone anywhere. Yet for some reason Hollywood has continued to completely ignore it for no apparent reason. Passed up for the more advertiser friendly Latin America/Hispanic demographic and the always coveted 18-49 male audience, women are still making their voices heard even if nobody will listen.
Yet maybe after this summer someone will finally get the message thanks to a number of over-performing movies led by strong female leads. Universal (a subsidiary of Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA)), Disney (NYSE:DIS) and Fox (NASDAQ:FOXA) all saw big wins this summer as Scarlett Johansson's Lucy, Angelia Jolie's Maleficent and The Other Woman's trio of Cameron Diaz, Kate Upton and Leslie Mann bucked the downward trend that plagued studios this summer season.
Now technically Woman opened the last weekend of April and out of the summer frame, but more and more that weekend has become increasingly appetizing to executives and the film did bleed into the actual season so it's worth it to include in the analysis. It also really speaks to the point here in that women want to see movies where they aren't being portrayed as the victim or the damsel in distress and you can't blame them.
In terms of financials, Woman performed as a solid revenge pic and with a micro budget of $40 million turned in a worldwide total of nearly $200 million. Ditto for Lucy, which turned its $40 million budget into almost $270 million globally while continuing to cement Johansson as one of the top female stars in Hollywood.
While Fox and Universal saw a big return with its female driven films, Disney took the biggest risk of them all and thus saw the biggest payoff. Angelina Jolie hasn't been in a live action film since 2010's The Tourist, which completely bombed. To take a chance on her here and in a role like Maleficent that is usually associated with wickedness and evil was gutsy.
Audiences appreciated the boldness of Maleficent and responded in kind, sending the film to a $69 million opening en route to a $238 million domestic haul. International audiences took over from there and pumped another $510 million into the gross for a total of near $750 million overall.
While nowhere near the $200 to $750 million range, it's also reasonable to throw Warner Brothers (a subsidiary of Time Warner (NYSE:TWX)) in the mix here as well given Tammy's shocking success. It may not have started off strong, but Melissa McCarthy's buddy road trip film did turn a nice profit and that was largely because of the female demographic. Made for only $20 million, the buddy road trip earned $83 million Stateside and another $7 million abroad.
So which companies should you look at in the fall if you want to literally buy into the trend? Well to be honest there's not a ton and that's part of the problem.
The good news is the fact that since Universal, Disney and Fox have seen success with this type of film it should mean more will be coming soon. The ironic part though is that all three of those companies know the appeal of female driven programming from their TV subsidiaries (broadcast networks NBC, ABC, Fox) so its profitability shouldn't really be a shock.
For now Warner Brothers and Disney present the best options with This Is Where I Leave You and Into The Woods (respectively) which are both adaptations (one of a book and one of a musical) featuring strong female characters. Leave bows this month, while Woods hits this Christmas.
You can also argue Fox is squarely targeting women with the film version of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, but given it revolves around a husband accused of murdering his wife the argument gets a little disjointed. Yet that's what we've come to in Hollywood where something like this is what the studios rely on to draw female audiences.
It's also important to mention the The Weinstein Company's Big Eyes featuring Amy Adams and Relativity's The Best Of Me (based on yet another Nicolas Sparks novel) are also coming out. While neither studio is publicly traded, each film speaks to the larger trend and hopefully their potential success will send a message to the large studios.
Just like in real life…underestimate the fairer sex at your own risk.
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